The aftermath of the wrongful death of George Floyd has unfortunately seen another wrong: the perception of too many police officers as villains. Police are feeling it, painfully. Many of them are blaming not just bad police but Black Lives Matter for its language regarding police.
“As a police officer I see firsthand the damage that BLM [Black Lives Matter] is causing,” writes Joe, a former student of mine at Grove City College, class of 2003. He emailed me for the first time in years, quite upset. He was referring to calls to defund the police.
“We call for a national defunding of police,” candidly states Black Lives Matter at its website, under its hashtag #DefundThePolice. “If you’re with us, add your name to the petition right now and help us spread the word.”
Add your name, join the petition, spread the word—and defund the cops.
Under the tab “What Defunding the Police Really Means,” BLM leads with this terrible stereotype: “We know that police don’t keep us safe.”
That’s a stunning assertion that has really angered police—including black police. It has also angered black residents in black communities who feel the police do, in fact, keep them safe. Some have been very demonstrative and very vocal.
Asked about “Defunding the Police,” David Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (and African American), states emphatically: “The biggest losers in all this will be poor black people in crime-ridden ghettos. The police are the only thing standing between them and violent criminal predators. You’d have to loathe black people to do that to them.”
For the record, I’ve emailed with BLM defenders who say the call for defunding can mean different things to different people. Yes, I’m sure that’s the case. And yet, if BLM doesn’t mean defund the police but, say, reform the police, then why not change #DefundThePolice to #ReformThePolice? If you don’t want to defund the police, then don’t create slogans saying defund the police. That seems reasonable, right?
And yet, the likes of BLM activist Miski Noor insist that when fellow activists say they want to abolish the police, they “100%” mean they want no more police.
Police certainly interpret it that way. Why wouldn’t they? How do you expect police sensitive about their difficult jobs to react to language like “Defund the Police” and “We know that police don’t keep us safe?”
For police like Joe, this isn’t helpful.
“For the first time in my 15+ year career,” writes Joe, “I feel I can understand what the soldiers returning from Vietnam experienced upon returning to a thankless country.”
All Joe ever wanted to be was a policeman. While other Grove City College students went to law school or medical school or took glamorous jobs in New York or Washington, Joe went to police school. He learned how to chase down people who hurt people. He wanted to stop bad guys. He viewed police heroically, but now he feels helpless.
His sadness reminds me of another student-turned-cop that I reconnected with a few years back in Indianapolis. We got together for a beer and bite to eat amid the Ferguson, Missouri fracas. He told me it was a tough time. He suddenly faced suspicion from a black community he worked hard to establish friendships with. His fellow police officers (many if not mostly black) jokingly call him “the philosopher” because he engages in philosophical-theological conversations with street guys (black and white), ruminating with them about culture, society, religion, and race.
“I talk to them,” he told me with a smile. “I treat them with dignity. I tell them I just want to go home tonight and see my family. We talk about race. We talk about God.”
He forms a bond. He’s a good cop. But suddenly, he was getting treated like a bad cop.
For the record, both myself and friends have had experiences with bad cops. I know guys who were abused (in my case, white cops abusing white men). I personally had a moment with a police officer in Sacramento a few years ago that was shocking and scary. The guy was obviously having a lousy day and just snapped. “Let’s go,” said my wife. “Don’t say a word, just go, now.” I’ve observed police behavior not exactly exemplary. I was once at a picnic with an off-duty cop who drove with a beer between his legs when we dashed into town for a grocery run. “Hey, dude,” I said, “you’re a cop, what are you doing?” He shrugged and laughed.
But of course, as the saying goes, you don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Countless police devote themselves selflessly. Most people don’t go to work fearing a bullet in the head and never seeing their kids again. Police are under tremendous stress, and they are, yes, human.
Imagine the hurt they feel as neighbors and entire sports stadiums post banners touting an organization widely known for calling for their defunding.
Alas, from a Catholic perspective, there are several problems with BLM’s rhetoric, tactics, and positioning. First and foremost, it lacks charity. In casting such a broadly and hurtful stereotype of police, it refuses them the dignity of individuals that they merit. Again, look at the statement: “We know that police don’t keep us safe.” That brazen assumption is really outrageous.
On display here at a number of levels are identity politics at their worst, especially the organizing and defining of people (and even their behavior) according to groups. Such identity politics are antithetical to Catholic teaching, where we see people as individuals, brothers and sisters made in the image of God, as part of a universal Church. We don’t view them and judge them and define them by color, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, place of origin. As John Paul II said, “every human being is special, precious, and unrepeatable.”
And then there is what BLM says at its website on issues that have nothing to do with policing or even with race and racial justice. BLM’s “What We Believe” statement describing itself is strikingly sexual and cultural and ideological, using words like “trans” four times, “queer” once, “heteronormative” once, and “comrades” twice. The website of BLM states that it seeks to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.”
Yes, disrupt the “Western” family structure.
What does that goal have to do with George Floyd? Nothing. Obviously, it has nothing to do with George Floyd. And it was there at the website long before George Floyd was assaulted. It calls into question the underlying motives and inspirations and aspirations of this group touting racial justice.
These are red flags that Catholics, or anyone, should not ignore.
Stop the bad cops? Yes. Stop the abusers. Reform the police. You can do those things without endorsing a group that calls for defunding the police or disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.
And above all, understand that not all cops are bad cops. We know that police do keep us safe, regardless of what BLM says to the contrary.
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